As the bassist for Black Kids, Owen Holmes is no stranger to the vagaries of the indie hype cycle. His Jacksonville, Fla.-based band garnered widespread critical acclaim for its debut EP in 2007 only to have the debut full-length panned en masse a year later. As far as Internet black sheep go, Black Kids are doing fine — they’re big in Europe and are working on a second album — but the rough treatment must have had an effect on how the members of the band choose to approach the music marketplace.
Gospel Music’s Duettes is the first Black Kids-related release since the full-length, Partie Traumatic, and it is a brief, low-key affair that seems meant to avoid the attention that nearly smothered Black Kids the first time around. As Holmes is Gospel Music’s principal songwriter, singer, and player, Duettes would be a de facto solo project were it not for the fact that Holmes is joined on by a different guest on each song. And these aren’t just people he knows from Jacksonville. The list features Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls, Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell, Hefner’s Darren Hayman, the Magnetic Fields’ Shirley Simms and French singer-songwriter SoKo. Holmes is not the greatest singer, coming across like a younger, less charismatic David Berman, so the talented guests certainly sweeten the deal.
Gospel Music sounds neither churchy, as its name might imply, nor is it glam, as Holmes’ membership in Black Kids might indicate. Rather, Holmes plays gentle, loping folk-pop that owes plenty to early Belle and Sebastian and is heavy on acoustic guitar strums, jaunty bass lines and goofy lyrics. “I Miss the Shit Out of You,” which features SoKo, switches between a lovelorn homebody stuck in Florida, and his beloved, who misses him too but not enough to quit the big city. Campbell joins in on “Automobile,” a Camera Obscura-esque jig about a four-door Honda that “ain’t much, but it’s paid for.” The best thing here is Ramone’s turn on “Are Your Parents Still Together?,” a ’60s-sounding strummer about the kind of people who “play some public radio and make their own pasta dough.”
In both its subject matter — drinking homemade beer, sitting by the fireplace, cooking — and its aesthetic qualities, Duettes is an unapologetically domestic album. It’s only 12 minutes long, and it goes down as easily as a pre-dinner appetizer. Holmes can’t expect to make any major waves with this album. Likely he just wanted to sing about his car and the fact that he ran a marathon. Duettes is a reminder that you can be pleasant without being dull, tender without being saccharine, homey without being tepid. Save your bile for the next Black Kids album; Gospel Music just wants to hang out.